Research Article: Semen CD4+ T Cells and Macrophages Are Productively Infected at All Stages of SIV infection in Macaques

Date Published: December 12, 2013

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Sibylle Bernard-Stoecklin, Céline Gommet, Aurélien B. Corneau, Sabrina Guenounou, Claire Torres, Nathalie Dejucq-Rainsford, Antonio Cosma, Nathalie Dereuddre-Bosquet, Roger Le Grand, Guido Silvestri.


The mucosal events of HIV transmission have been extensively studied, but the role of infected cells present in the genital and rectal secretions, and in the semen, in particular, remains a matter of debate. As a prerequisite to a thorough in vivo investigation of the early transmission events through infected cells, we characterized in detail by multi-parameter flow cytometry the changes in macaque seminal leukocytes during SIVmac251 infection, focusing on T cells, macrophages and dendritic cells. Using immunocytofluorescence targeting SIV proteins and real-time quantitative PCR targeting SIV DNA, we investigated the nature of the infected cells on sorted semen leukocytes from macaques at different stages of infection. Finally, we cocultured semen CD4+ T cells and macrophages with a cell line permissive to SIV infection to assess their infectivity in vitro. We found that primary infection induced strong local inflammation, which was associated with an increase in the number of leukocytes in semen, both factors having the potential to favor cell-associated virus transmission. Semen CD4+ T cells and macrophages were productively infected at all stages of infection and were infectious in vitro. Lymphocytes had a mucosal phenotype and expressed activation (CD69 & HLA-DR) and migration (CCR5, CXCR4, LFA-1) markers. CD69 expression was increased in semen T cells by SIV infection, at all stages of infection. Macrophages predominated at all stages and expressed CD4, CCR5, MAC-1 and LFA-1. Altogether, we demonstrated that semen contains the two major SIV-target cells (CD4+ T cells and macrophages). Both cell types can be productively infected at all stages of SIV infection and are endowed with markers that may facilitate transmission of infection during sexual exposure.

Partial Text

More than 33 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. Almost 80% of new infections occur through sexual intercourse. Semen is thus one of the major factors in HIV transmission. Most studies on HIV sexual transmission have focused on the role of cell-free particles, and the underlying mechanisms of transmission have been extensively described. Moreover, most attempts to develop HIV vaccines and microbicides have focused on blocking cell-free virus transmission. The rectal and vaginal exposure of macaques to free SIV particles has been widely used in studies of the sexual transmission of HIV and evaluations of the efficacy of prophylactic strategies [1], [2]. Most challenge studies use viruses produced in vitro in the culture supernatants of human and nonhuman primate (NHP) cells.

We report here in a macaque model of transmission the first comprehensive characterization of semen leukocytes with the potential to transmit HIV/SIV infection across mucosal barriers. This study was carried out with cynomolgus macaques infected with pathogenic SIVmac251, which is recognized as the most relevant experimental model for studies of HIV infection pathogenesis and mucosal transmission [13], [35], [36], [37]. However, the fact that we used a unique virus isolate, does not allow full representation of the diversity of the HIV-1 populations found in the semen of infected men. Although it is dual-tropic, it is well established that SIVmac251 shows a high tropism for macrophages [38] which is not the case for a significant proportion of founder HIV. Therefore we cannot exclude that our model over estimates the role of macrophage-tropic strains of HIV-1 in transmission.




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